Triple Layer Chocolate, Coffee, Vanilla Cake

Comment

Triple Layer Chocolate, Coffee, Vanilla Cake

fullsizeoutput_848.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_809.jpeg

It’s on an almost daily basis that I find my thoughts converging on that scene in Matilda:  Bruce vs the chocolate cake – moist, dense, dark, and yes, revolting. It’s a tempting challenge, and only on a handful of occasions in my life have I come close to those chocolatey depths (or heights, depending on your perspective). 

fullsizeoutput_819.jpeg

The first time was at my 9th birthday party which took place in the civilized private room of a pottery painting shop, surrounded by friends from my all-girls school, all politely detailing their teacups with flowers, and hearts, and stars. The birthday cake arrived, tall and majestic, lavishly enrobed in sumptuous swathes of soft chocolate buttercream.

All I can say in mitigation of what was to come was that at least I waited until my slice was placed in a bowl. But then the urge became overpowering, and it was with unbridled joy that I plunged my face into my bowl and into the luscious embrace of the cake.

fullsizeoutput_886.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_832.jpeg

But my Bruce experiences don’t end there. I waited a further nine years until I was at university, when a five pence coin thrown into a neighbour’s dessert meant that it had to be devoured without cutlery. This was a curse to many, but an opportunity I wholeheartedly seized. Why waste time on cutlery when you can cut to the chase, pig-in-trough style, with an audience?  

fullsizeoutput_831.jpeg

The desire was mostly satisfied then but I still dream up opportunities to replicate it. I imagine this cake would be peak territory for such caveman antics: a base layer of moist and rich chocolate cake (ticks the Bruce box), a golden middle tier of coffee cake, and a fluffy vanilla sponge top tier. The buttercream is deeply chocolatey with a pinch of salt to counteract the sweetness, and the cake is topped with a mirror ganache drip glaze (easier to do than you may think). Nigella famously writes in her recipe: “Feeds twelve, or one with a broken heart”. This feeds twenty, or one with an overpowering Man vs Food, Matilda’s Bruce desire.

fullsizeoutput_87c.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_859.jpeg

Although this cake has multiple elements and steps it is not difficult to carry out.

  •  If you wish to have all three layers identical, then just triple the quantity of one cake.
  • Feel free to experiment with buttercreams as well (for example, vanilla, coffee, or caramel). 
  • Additionally, I use dark fruits to decorate the cake, but you can keep it plain, or venture down more chocolatey routes. It is also delicious kept simple, without the mirror chocolate ganache.
  • This is effectively three cakes in one so you can just make one of the cakes, and make a third of the icing in which to cloak it.
  • The chocolate cake recipe makes slightly more than necessary, hence the muffin cups into which the excess mixture is poured – a bonus in my book…

Ingredients

The vanilla and coffee cakes:

450g unsalted butter, at room temperature
450g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp milk
8 large eggs, at room temperature
450g self-raising flour, sieved
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tsp boiling water

The chocolate cake:

400g plain flour
250g caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
50 high quality cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
140g soured cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract
175g unsalted butter, melted
125g corn or vegetable oil
300ml cold water

Salted cocolate buttercream:

250g high quality 70% dark chocolate
375g unsalted butter, at room temperature
680g icing sugar, sieved
½ tsp salt
4 tsp vanilla extract


Mirror chocolate ganache:

100g double cream
100g high quality 70% dark chocolate

Equipment:

3 (or 2 if you wash one up in between making vanilla/coffee and chocolate cakes) x 20cm diameter round cake tins, buttered, with the base lined with a circle of baking parchment
1 muffin tin with 5 muffin cases
piping bag fitted with a 2-3mm round nozzle


Method

The vanilla cake and the coffee cake:

1)    Preheat fan oven to 180C. In a large bowl with a spoon, or in a mixer fitted with the paddle, beat together butter and sugar for about 3 minutes until the mixture turns fluffy, soft and almost white. Beat in the vanilla and milk.  
2)    Then beat in one egg at a time alternating each egg with a tablespoon of flour. Don’t panic if it looks slightly curdled, as this is normal. Add in the rest of the flour and salt and, by hand, gently fold them into the mixture.
3)    Pour half the mixture into one of the lined baking tins – this is the vanilla cake. For the coffee cake, add in the dissolved espresso powder into the remaining mixture and fold in gently. Pour into the second baking tin and place both in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean. After 30 minutes, you may need to cover them with tinfoil to prevent the surface from burning. 
4)    Once cooked, remove from oven and place on a rack to cool.

The chocolate cake:

1)    Preheat fan oven to 180C. Into a large bowl, sieve all the dry ingredients and mix through. In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, soured cream and vanilla. 
2)    In a third, large bowl, either by hand or in a mixer fitted with the paddle, beat together oil, butter and water until combined. Into this bowl, pour the dry ingredients and fold gently to combine. Then pour in the egg, cream, vanilla mixture and fold gently together until smooth and just combined.
3)    Pour off 300g of the mixture into a separate bowl and divide equally between 5 muffin cases. Pour the rest of the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place muffins and large cake in the oven. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, and the large cake for 40-50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Check the large cake after 30 minutes, as you make need to cover it with tinfoil to prevent the surface from burning. Once cooked through, remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool.

The salted chocolate buttercream:

1)    Melt the chocolate in a bowl sitting on top of a pan of boiling water (don’t let the water touch the base of the bowl containing chocolate). Set the melted chocolate aside to cool slightly.
2)    In a mixer fitted with a paddle, or in a large bowl with a spoon, beat together the icing sugar and butter until combined. Pour in the melted chocolate, salt and vanilla, and beat once more until combined. 

The chocolate mirror ganache:

1)    Make this only once the cake is iced. Heat the double cream in a small pan over a medium heat until it just begins to bubble. Remove from heat immediately and stir in the chocolate until it has melted and both combine into a glossy ganache.

Assembly:

1)    The cakes should be of equal depth, so line the three cakes alongside each other and, with a long-serrated knife, slice the domes off each to make them even. I then place the cakes in the freezer for 10 minutes as it makes them easier to ice. 
2)    Place the chocolate cake on the stand on which you wish to serve the cake. This will be the bottom most layer. Place about a fifth of the icing mixture on top and spread it carefully with a spatula. Place the coffee cake directly on top and repeat, finally placing the vanilla layer on top. 
3)    At this point, if you are impatient, you can continue to ice the rest of the cake with the remaining buttercream, and proceed directly to stage 4.  If, however, you want to ice the cake perfectly, it is advisable to do a crumb layer. This involves placing another fifth of the buttercream on the top of the cake and using a spatula to spread it evenly in as thin layer as possible around the cake, coating and filling any irregularities or gaps so that the sides and top are totally smooth and flat. Once this is done, place the cake in the fridge for a further 30 minutes until the icing is slightly hard to the touch. Remove from the fridge, and place the remaining icing onto the top of the cake and use a spatula to spread it off the top and around the sides. I dip the spatula in hot water to help achieve a smooth result. Place the cake back in the fridge while making the ganache.
4)    Spoon a third of the ganache into the piping bag. Begin by drawing a line round the edge of the cake surface as a border. Then to make a drip, hold the piping bag very still with the nozzle pointing directly down, and put consistent pressure on the bag to allow the drop to fall from the edge down the side of the cake. Stop when the drip is nearly at the length you want. Continue along the edge of the cake making drips of different lengths. Once this is done, pour the remaining ganache onto the top of the cake and spread with a spatula to cover the surface. 
5)    Top with dark fruits or any decoration of choice, and serve. 

All cake recipes are adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Fudge Cake and Victoria Sponge Cake recipes

fullsizeoutput_879.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_876.jpeg

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

Spelt Scones & Damson Jam

Comment

Spelt Scones & Damson Jam

fullsizeoutput_8bb.jpeg

Adorned with dew drops of glaucous fruits, the damson tree was innocent in its fairy tale perfection. Plump and firm, tart and succulent they were ideal contenders for picking. There seemed at first glance to be very few, but as the minutes rolled by, our bags heavier and the ladder creaking, the tree continued to proffer its bounty. The result: 6kg of damsons and a swollen stomach from ones that never quite made it into the bag.

fullsizeoutput_8ff.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_8b5.jpeg

Our supply of sugar rather pitiful in the wake of the unsurpassed abundance, I heaved an Olympian quantity back from the supermarket. The one bag that decided to split has left a coating of sticky grit on any coins that I dig out of the corners of my bag.  

fullsizeoutput_8c5.jpeg

Then on to the stove went the damsons, the heated sugar and a touch of water. They blistered, bubbled and broke out of their skins. The stones rose to the surface like witches on trial and had to be picked out one by one. Meanwhile the mixture boiled and thickened, giving off a foamy pink effervescence that I carved off as it supposedly tastes slightly bitter (although I rather enjoyed spooning it directly into my mouth). Then as it reached its rich amethyst depths and a satisfying viscose texture, I took it off and poured it into the sterilised jars: therapeutic and deeply satisfying…the first-time round.

fullsizeoutput_8ac.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_93a.jpeg

But as I tried to leave the kitchen I was bludgeoned with another 3kg worth of damsons. I was pelted, too, with threats of waste and rotting fruit if I didn’t make jam immediately. The kitchen became heated with the upset from my father who had cultivated and nurtured the tree for years.

fullsizeoutput_920.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_915.jpeg

So, I gave in and became a slave to the damson tree once more, boiling, straining, stirring pouring. And now we have half a fridge thronging with jar upon jar of jam. And what does one do when he or she has a year’s supply of jam? Well, I find eating it straight from the jar perfectly acceptable, but others need a medium as an excuse. So I made scones. These are not the dry, stale and overly sweet ones that leave you desperately seeking a currant to relieve you from the accumulating doughy mass at the top of your palate. These are soft, light, moist and crumbly. Rustic in shape, they are best eaten immediately or on the same day (though it is unlikely they will survive longer). 

 

fullsizeoutput_90c.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_8fa.jpeg

Spelt Scone Recipe – makes 12

500g white spelt flour (can be substituted with plain)

4 ½ tsp cream of tartar

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

(optional: 2 tbsp sugar if would like them sweet)

1/2 tsp salt

125g cold unsalted butter, diced

300ml milk

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

 

6cm round cookie cutter

Large baking sheet, lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)    Preheat the oven to 220°C.

2)    Into a large bowl sift all the dry ingredients. Add in the butter and with fingertips rub it into the dry ingredients until like damp sand. Pour in the milk and very gently fold in until just combined (there may still be pockets of flour).

3)    Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it lightly for about 10 seconds. Roll out to a 3cm thickness and then cut out as many scones as possible. Lightly re-knead the scraps of dough and roll out once more to cut out the last remaining scones.  Space them out on the tray and blush with the beat egg. Place in oven to bake for 8-10 minutes until they are shiny and golden.

Damson Jam Recipe (makes about 3kg, 9 jars)

NB. This recipe can be adapted for any number of damsons by maintaining the ratio

2kg damsons (slightly under-ripe and not too soft)

2kg sugar

200ml water

9 jam jars, sterilised

Method

1)    Pour sugar into an over proof dish and place in oven heated to a low temperature (around 120°C) while the damsons are prepared. Place a couple of small plates into a fridge to cool – these will be used to check the jam’s consistency later.

2)    Grease a large stainless-steel pot with butter to prevent the fruit from sticking. Then pour in the damsons and water and stew over a medium-low heat, stirring gently until the damsons’ skins break. Pour in the warmed sugar and stir over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

3)    Increase the heat to medium-high and allow to boil (controllably), stirring occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking. After a few minutes, as the fruits break down, a pink foam will rise to the surface. Using a slotted spoon, siphon this off into a bowl. If some remains it won’t ruin the jam, it just doesn’t taste as pure as the rest. Then, as the stones begin to rise up, siphon off those too.

4)    After about 15 minutes of boiling, when all the stones have been removed, pour a teaspoon of the liquid onto a cold plate. Let it sit for about a minute then tilt the plate, if the liquid is no longer watery, with a viscosity between a sauce and a jam, and wrinkles when pushed with the finger, it is set. For the more scientifically-minded, it should be 105°C on a sugar thermometer. Pour the jam into the sterilised jars and allow to come to room temperature before sealing them with lids.

fullsizeoutput_908.jpeg

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

 

 

 

 

Comment

Crunchy Spicy Tangy Thai Salad

Comment

Crunchy Spicy Tangy Thai Salad

At the centre of a party you have the brash, garishly dressed harpy in a spandex and lurex flesh-popping, bum-skirting bodycon dress. She’s swishing her long, over-straightened blonde hair in the hope that people, like magpies, will be drawn in by its glinting sheen. But she’s telling the story you’ve heard a hundred times.

The punchlines are obvious and overdone. It’s an opaque boast to show off her intellect and attractiveness. She’s hyperbolising, and the decibels are mounting, in order to suck more people in.

You draw near, but after a few superficial bites, you hit the bone. What appeared to be a sumptuous, resplendent, sticky chicken wing feast was just a scraggly bit of overhyped flesh, and you’re left with a sickly sweet taste, desperate for something more refreshing and with more interest.

That’s when you leave the centre of the room and go over to the quiet person in the corner: modestly dressed, elegant but not overstated, and initially slightly shy. But once you start talking, there’s no stopping - tantalising wit, layers of texture and depth, sweet enough but with refreshing zestiness that intrigues and keeps you going back for more. Guard this salad closely because when others' attention rapidly wanes they’ll be coming over here too. Food envy is not something to be treated lightly, so here’s the recipe:

 

 

Recipe

Ingredients (serves 4)

3 tbsp (60g) smooth peanut butter (unsalted preferably)

4 1/2 tsp (45g) honey

4 1/2 tsp sesame oil

4 1/2 tsp soy sauce 

3 tbsp lime juice

15g finely grated fresh ginger 

1 medium sized garlic clove, crushed

(optional) 1 small Thai red chilli, very finely chopped

 

230g red cabbage (approx 1 quarter of a cabbage)

1 red pepper

130g cucumber

3 spring onions

100g beansprouts

60g roasted and salted peanuts, crushed + 10g extra for serving

25g coriander, roughly chopped + 5g extra for serving

 

Method

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients until smooth and emulsified.
  2. Finely slice the cabbage horizontally (so the average piece is about 4cm long). Remove the stalk and deseed the red pepper, then slice finely horizontally.
  3. Slice the cucumber in half lengthways and, with a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds. Then slice finely lengthways and then in half horizontally to create matchsticks.  Finely chop the spring onions.  Then in a large bowl mix together the cabbage, pepper, cucumber, spring onions, crushed peanuts & roughly chopped coriander.
  4. Pour the dressing over, and mix through. Scatter with extra crushed peanuts and then the chopped coriander, and serve.  If you are making in advance, prepare the salad ingredients and dressing separately, and pour the dressing on just before serving.

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

Raspberry & Orange Financiers

Comment

Raspberry & Orange Financiers

Entremets, soufflés, macarons, choux buns - even making ciabatta, a two day process, which culminates in a dough whose tenacious elasticity has been known to reduce some people to tears - I’ve generally met their challenges.

However, hubris met nemesis a couple of weeks ago. I came home to the nutty toasted perfume of a new recipe my mom had tried out: ridiculously simple, five ingredient coconut wafers so thin you could see the sunset through them, so tender that they crumbled in anticipation of hitting one’s tongue, and so light and moreish that a second batch was immediately required in order to satisfy my family’s greed.

I duly crumbed, clumped, chilled, and sliced.  “Make them thinner,” my mom said. And I did, each slice crumbling into thousands of buttery coconut crumbs. I pressed them together and started again. And again. Unfortunately, it was only my patience that turned out thin, and the petulant three year old in me ended up scooping together the entire mixture and, from a height, throwing it down onto the tray.

Finally, I managed to get the fragments to coagulate by adding water. Things went more smoothly, but the biscuits, when baked, were slightly tougher, less flaky and less moreish than the original batch. Nevertheless, my brother took them to university. One of his friends, suffering from tonsillitis, reached into the box of biscuits, and in taking out one, touched many. The rest were binned, mostly due to the possibility of their having being infected with tonsillitis, but clearly not delicious enough to warrant risking it – a failure in my book.

After nursing my crumbled confidence for several days I swerved off the rocky path of coconut wafers to try my hand at financiers. I have always admired them - perfectly bite sized and innocent- looking with the flush of raspberry in the centre. They are also simple to make, requiring few ingredients, and turning out both delicious and delicate.

The history is much debated, but some say they were create by nuns of the Order of the Visitation and then adapted by a French baker, Lasne, to sell in the Parisian financial district where their almond content allowed them to keep well in the pockets of bankers. 

They are elegant and dainty, slightly crunchy on the outside, the tender blond crumb perfumed with a slight orange tang and moistened by the burst of raspberry.  They do keep rather well and would bless a summer’s picnic.

Recipe:

Makes 30 (approx)

50g unsalted butter

50g plain flour

160g icing sugar

140g ground almonds

1/2 tsp salt

200g egg whites (6 large eggs)

1/4 tsp almond extract

zest of 1/4 orange 

60g raspberries (minimum of 30 raspberries i.e. 1 per financier)

 Very well-greased and flour- dusted 3 x 12 hole mini cupcake tins (with 2.5cm diameter circles)  OR 1 to be used 3 times

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a small pan over a medium heat. When completely melted, stir the bottom of the pan continuously until the butter turns a deep gold colour and nutty in aroma. Set aside to cool.
  2. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into large bowl. Stir in the ground almonds and salt. Once combined, pour in the egg whites, almond extract, zest and slightly cooled butter and stir to fully combine. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  4. Spoon the batter into the holes until each is two thirds full. Press a raspberry into the centre of each - the batter should rise to all the way to the top. 
  5. Place in the oven to bake for 10-12 minutes or until light gold in colour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool (to avoid them becoming soggy) or devour immediately. 

Comment

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

Comment

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

ANTI-VALENTINES ANCIENT ROMAN-STYLE

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

Candlelit dinner in a restaurant suddenly eye-wateringly expensive, a single rose rattling in its cellophane wrapper, chocolates filled with chemical cherry liqueur, and greetings cards covered with hearts and teddy bears and hearts and pictures of champagne and hearts: these are contemporary references to St Valentine’s Day. 

How much more seductive would it be to celebrate Lupercalia as the Ancients did?

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies
Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

On the 15th February, naked youths of noble birth, anointed with the blood of sacrificed goats, and carrying strips of the animals’ hide, would run through Rome in a spirit of hilarity and lash waiting females in order to promote fertility and assist with pregnancy.

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

If this sounds too overtly carnal, how about taking the advice of Ovid in his Ars Amatoria on how to secure a woman or man, how to seduce him or her, and how to keep him or her from being stolen by another? His tips include knowing where to look to find the beloved as he or she will not just fall from heaven. 

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies
Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

According to Ovid, the theatre is a particularly good place to meet beautiful women.  He warns men to wear well cut and spotless togas, and to avoid having dirty, long fingernails and visible nasal hairs.

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies
Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

 Beware, too, the persuasive effects of low lighting and alcohol which can mask a woman’s true looks, he says. 

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies
Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

Women, however, he advises, should use to their advantage all the tricks that cosmetics can offer, while not letting any man observe their application: hide the work in progress, he suggests. Wear simple, unostentatious clothes, revealing a slightly exposed shoulder or upper arm. Sing, play an instrument and learn to play board games, he tells women, and beware of fops.

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

But if all this sounds too much like hard work, I heartily recommend that you make these cookies.  Simple to make, they are rich and decadent and infinitely seductive.

Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies
Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

 

Ingredients (Makes 24)

300g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

160g Nutella

45g unsalted butter

225g plain flour

35g unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 large eggs

300g caster sugar

finely grated zest of 2 medium-sized oranges

1 tbsp fresh orange juice

80g icing sugar

2 baking sheets, lined with non-stick baking parchment

 

Method

  1. Place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water (without the water touching the bottom of the bowl).  Into the bowl break the chocolate into pieces and add in Nutella and butter. Allow to melt slowly, stirring occasionally until it turns glossy, molten and smooth. Remove the bowl from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. In a large bowl, sieve together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.
  3. In an electric mixer fitter with the paddle, or in a large bowl by hand, beat together eggs and sugar for 2-3 minutes until creamy, thick and pale.  Pour in orange zest and juice and beat again to combine.
  4. Pour the molten chocolate mix into the egg mixture and very gently fold together so as not to lose the aeration. Pour in the sieved dry ingredients and, again, fold gently until just combined. 
  5. Cover bowl and let the mixture cool in the fridge for half an hour. 
  6. Preheat oven to 170°C. Sieve icing sugar into a bowl. Remove the cookie dough from the fridge and roll the dough into spheres of about 40g each. Roll each one in the icing sugar to coat thoroughly, then place on the tray, leaving about 5cm space between each.
  7. Place in oven to cook for 8-12 minutes, (checking after 8). They should be soft to the touch and feel slightly undercooked. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. They will continue to cook as they cool. If you can manage to resist them, store in a an airtight container for a week (they get fudgier over time), or freeze in an airtight container for 2 months.
Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies
Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies
Chewy Triple Chocolate Nutella & Orange Cookies

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

 

 

 

Comment

Firedog

Comment

Firedog

FireDog

A Rolls Royce pulls up neatly against the curb, a proud, gleaming red. The G-Wiz rattles up next to it, and executes a perfect piece of perpendicular parking.  Enter the Range Rover: mud-spattered but in control, it slides in next to the Rolls. Then the Mini arrives, honking to assert itself. The Volvo lines itself alongside the Mini, together with a school bus crammed with screaming children, and a battered black cab. Then a newly licensed Uber decides to swing his Prius into the fray. He nudges the tiny G-Wiz which crumples against the Rolls Royce.

FireDog
FireDog

The Roller hoots with disgust. This in turn alarms the bus driver who lets go of the hand brake and slides diagonally into the Volvo, crushing itself up against the Mini which then overturns. The police car rushes in to clear a path, bouncing off the heap of crushed metal. It surges forward and, much to the surprise of all the drivers, ends up on top of the Prius. 

FireDog

With much shattered glass, screaming, and whining, thick black engine fluids drip from one car to the next, like the tahini molasses mulch pooling into the thyme-infused ricotta. A slug of red-spiced scrambled eggs slips out of the copper pot into the macerated cherry-topped ricotta.

FireDog
FireDog

Vanilla butter smears itself against the dollop of oily harissa which mixes into the citrus- and basil-infused tomatoes.  A lemony chunk of poppy seed-coated cucumber slides into the pot of strawberry jam. 

FireDog
FireDog

“What would you like to try next?” I ask my dining companion, as I work out how to play this game.

“Just give me two minutes to think,” he mumbles, frowning, as he tries to climb out of the pothole of mezze-induced confusion. “Ok, the halloumi please”. 

FireDog

I shuffle through the tiles, terracotta bowls, mini jars and copper pots to dig out the halloumi, which, surprisingly, turns out to be deliciously golden and molten. He lifts up the clay pot of lamb kofta to do a mid-air switch over, but in doing so the feta is upturned into the lemon curd, and the basket of bread - pitta, sesame-coated milk bread, and some other flatbread - plummets to the floor, its contents scattering under the table opposite.

FireDog
FireDog

At this point, the cheery and oblivious waitress arrives at our culinary game of Rush Hour with our bulgar and honey roast butternut squash and pomegranate salad. Conversation turns into a balloon debate: which dishes to sacrifice, which to keep. We end up handing them all over to make space for the salad. My plate is a quagmire of sweet, sticky, ricotta, honey, meaty harissa mulch, echoing the chaos of my brain and palate. 

FireDog
FireDog

We look up to recover from the tumult, and find ourselves staring into the cartoon eyes of a loin- clothed Neanderthal and a pink-cloaked witch proffering pomegranates. Not encouraged by the decor but urged on by greed, I try a couple of mouthfuls of the salad. It is fresh, sweet and nutty - far more balanced than any of the preceding dishes. Full, but with mouth, mind and stomach in turmoil, we leave the dark wood and neon enclosure that is Firedog - a supposedly Aegean restaurant, but one for which I doubt Odysseus would interrupt his travels.

FireDog
FireDog

Food: 4/10

Price: ££(££)

Ambience: 4/10

Loos: 7/10

Suitable for: nightmares, a place to go where everywhere else is booked

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

A Jelfian Odyssey

Comment

A Jelfian Odyssey

Beetroot

We were plunged into the depths of the most labyrinthine of Moroccan souks with a texturally titillating starter of spiced chickpeas, roast Chantenay carrots flecked with crunchy pomegranate gems and creamy curd.  It was not a long journey thence to the Welsh influenced Moroccan tagine, a sublime encounter with meat (possibly reared by one of the dinner guests himself) rendered almost molten after a three hour simmer.

Butternut Squash

Then, tossed on the tides of wine dark seas, we were carried away. We hugged the North African coast for as long as we could, before migrating across the undulating hills and majestic mountains to Southern Italy for a Marsala-imbued tiramisu. The brawn (in the muscular sense, not gelatinous pig's head) evident in the hand- whipped mascarpone elevated the dish further - quite unreplicable by any kitchen machinery. The plank of cheeses that had, tantalisingly, been perfuming the room, was brought before us, where the Mont D'Or led to much fantasising about entire rooms plastered with its moreish viscosity.

Brussels Sprouts

It is a great shame that the refried beans from the last visit failed to make an appearance. I can only assume that this was a conscious decision in order to allow a full coverage of fur to develop before extricating them from the fridge for medicinal use or a kimchi style delicacy.

Pomegranate

Each guest launched him/herself into a dulcet kazoo cacophony. Renditions of Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl and Amy Winehouse’s Rehab were boldly modernised and subtly nuanced. Unfortunately, mastering the kazoo did not come as naturally to some as to others, and attempts to challenge the traditional method of kazooing included pursing one’s lips in flautist style, blowing from the other end, and, from one unlikely crystal meth abuser, filling the hollow with water in bong style.

Carrot

Post dinner, we journeyed further north and, interestingly, back in time to the Iron Age, where the Hootenanny, famed for its reggae and hip hop nights, was facing a hairy invasion of retired Celtic warriors. In a show of true masculinity, clothing was scarce and moobs were on full show, quivering brawnily (the gelatinous pig’s head kind, not the muscular) along to the stirring beats of the three competing drummers. Caught in their own time loop, and not ashamed to recognise they were on to a good thing, they singled out the crowd's favourite 12 minute song and played it on repeat for the entire evening.

Peppers

The journey ended here for the adventurers to rest and recover before the next leg of the journey, even further north.

 

NB: Photos are for visual stimulation only and are in no way related to the feast.

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

MINI CHOCOLATE & RASPBERRY MERINGUES

Comment

MINI CHOCOLATE & RASPBERRY MERINGUES

Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues

According to most newspapers, January should be the month of indulgence deprivation. With the weather cold, grey and bleak, we’re being told that now is the time to eliminate everything that affords even a hint of pleasure. I admit that it may be time for me to cut down on the panettone habit: I caught myself tearing off fleecy chunks of the ambrosial, yellow, sultana-studded fluff and crowding my mouth until it overflowed. 

Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue

My brother actually created a time-saving method which anticipated the bolus of food that would develop in the gullet by compressing the panettone in his hands first before devouring. I was impressed.

Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue
Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue

Fortunately, but lamentably, my mother prevented me from importing from Italy to England the 5 kg of panettone that I’d bought (with the pretence of giving as gifts). To cope with the withdrawal symptoms, I made these instead.  

Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue
Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue

I refuse to deprive myself of pleasure - these can be a happy halfway house. So numerous that they can be popped into the mouth in one without anyone noticing that the supply has been reduced, so light that they can be enjoyed without having to loosen waistbands to accommodate them, and so small that they make gorgeous bejewelled petit fours at dinner parties without the guilt attached, in my case, to eating an entire pavlova.  

Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues

The dark chocolate base adds a touch of sophistication and slight bitterness to undercut the sweetness, and the raspberry provides that much needed astringency to cut through it. Crunch, creaminess, chocolate and tang, all in one mouthful – who needs 5kg of panettone? 

Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues

Ingredients

(makes 70 mini meringues - halve the recipe if you would like fewer)

90g egg white (the whites of 3 large eggs)

175g caster sugar

150g good quality dark chocolate (70%)

200ml double cream

350g raspberries (approximately 1 per meringue)

30g icing sugar (optional)

2 large baking sheets lined with baking parchment

A piping bag fitted with a round 1cm nozzle to be used twice: first to pipe the meringue, and then the cream.  It can be marginally larger or smaller than 1cm. If you lack a piping bag, you can use a freezer bag and cut off a corner to replicate a 1 cm sized nozzle.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 130°C. Pour egg whites into an electric mixer fitted with a whisk and whisk on high speed until soft peaks form.  It should be foamy in appearance.
  2. Switch the speed to medium-high and pour in caster sugar one tablespoon at a time. Once each tablespoon has dissolved into the mass of egg white, add the next. Keep whisking until the meringue forms hard peaks and is glossy i.e. the meringue should hold its shape when drawn into peaks with a spoon and the tracks of the whisk are visible in its surface.
  3. Spoon the meringue mixture into the piping bag.  Holding the nozzle at a right angle to the baking parchment, pipe 3cm diameter sized meringue peaks onto the parchment in rows, leaving 3cm between each one (they expand slightly as they bake). Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes, checking after 30 minutes. Once cooked, switch the oven off and allow to sit for another 15 minutes in the oven. They should remain pale and be crisp on the outside and slightly soft in the centre. Remove cooled meringues from the oven, and set them aside.
  4. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Don't allow the water to touch the base of the chocolate bowl. Don't melt the chocolate directly in a pan on the stove as this causes it to seize. Allow to melt, stirring occasionally until glossy and smooth. Remove from the heat. Lightly holding the meringues at the sides with thumb and forefinger, dip the base of each meringue into the molten chocolate so that it coats the base and up to 1cm on the sides of the meringue. Place the dipped meringues back on to the baking parchment. Once the whole batch is coated, place the tray in the freezer for 10 minutes to allow them to set.
  5. In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk (or by hand if you’re feeling strong), whisk the cream until thickened. The tracks of the whisk should be visible and it should hold light peaks. Spoon the cream into a piping bag and pipe about a teaspoon of cream on to each meringue. Place a raspberry on each cream peak, face down. Sieve icing sugar over, if desired, and serve. 
  6. Best eaten on the day but the meringues without topping can be kept in an airtight container for a couple of weeks in a cool dry cupboard, and for a month in the freezer.
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

Dickie Fitz

Comment

Dickie Fitz

Dickie Fitz

If they had stayed for a little longer, they might have realised that the story I was telling was one of salaciousness, survival of 6.3 Richter scale earthquakes, 800 years of in-breeding in hidden Tuscan villages, and scandal. Alas, they missed out. All three couples came, perched for 10 minutes or so, before murmuring into the waiter’s ear something which meant that they then proceeded to shuffle across the crisp white and mustard-toned restaurant to somewhere where they could engage in their own (much more dull) tales. Admittedly, at the age of ten my teacher did declare that I was a foghorn, but in this situation it was not the decibels that were the issue, but rather the proximity of the tables.

Dickie Fitz

I don’t know whether it’s part of the Australian vibe, or whether the blinding whiteness of the restaurant has some sort of narcotic effect. Whichever it is, the waiters just seemed very lax. At the back of both upstairs and downstairs dining areas there are, at an initial glance, what appear to be bars. But as the meal progressed, and I winked, waved and stared until my eyes my eyes began to water at waiters in the hope of catching their attention, I realised their hidden purpose: they are the restaurant version of the bird watcher’s hide - a camouflaged refuge where under the guise of polishing glasses the staff can spectate and judge the gorging and imbibing. Eventually, I managed to snare a waitress before she shuffled behind the hide.

Dickie Fitz

As an obsessive fan of MasterChef Australia (I refuse to watch the British version), I was rather excited by the promise of an Australian-Pan-Pacific menu, and plumped for the Thai chicken salad: fresh, crisp and crunchy to the point where I could feel my jaw muscles ache the next day. It was definitely palatable, albeit lacking that sweet sticky, spice-kicked tang that the word “Thai” promises. My dining companion enjoyed what was apparently smashed avocado, charred tomato, feta and grilled sourdough, but which was hard to make out under the crisp kale shroud.

Dickie Fitz

Our meal ended at the two dishes. We felt rather abandoned by the waiters, who did not even try to maximise spend-per-cover by offering us dessert or drinks menus. Their tactic must have worked to some bizarre extent as I returned to the restaurant some weeks later, mainly out of curiosity: spiced halloumi with falafel, preserved lemon, and pickle salad for me. Crunchy and tender in all the right places, bitter, zesty, sharp and sweet, it was a success. For dessert, a delicate twist on the pavlova - a soft set lemony curd, berries and basil infused cream - in no way satisfying, but refreshing all the same.

Dickie Fitz

So, in summary, my experience of Dickie Fitz was crowd-shy waiters, not outstandingly innovative yet refreshing, clean, tasty food, and (squashed together) tables that are actually bookable for brunch, an increasing rarity these days.

Food: 7/10

Service 4/10

Vibe: 8/10

Loos: 6/10

Suitable for: brunch, celebrations, actually being able to book a table, vegetarians

HUNGRY FOR MORE?